Are Children in the Flathead in Danger of Being “Disconnected” from Nature?

Even in the Flathead- hard to believe isn’t it? A national trend shows that children are becoming more and more disconnected from the natural world. Competing interests with computer games, social networks, and structured outdoor activities are displacing time spent outdoors in unstructured play – just running, making forts, wandering through the woods & meadows. Could children in our own community, an area surrounded with natural areas, be part of this trend?

Parent and educator workshops at Glacier National Park indicate they are. Park rangers conducted two workshops for adults who work outdoors with children – scout leaders, summer camp staff, teachers, youth group instructors – in April and May this year and the resounding consensus from the 70 different participants was that Flathead Valley children are succumbing to the same factors that keep children indoors nation-wide. Participants noted things like: the lack of safe places to ride bicycles; the fear parents have of letting their children “wander” as their generation did when they were young; the increased time that children spend with computer games and television; and the lack of knowledge or time for parents to take their children to go play in the woods. Additionally, it’s not just children who are not getting outdoors in nature to play. A report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that “all major lines of evidence point to a general and fundamental shift away from people’s participation in nature-based recreation.”

So what?

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, has documented a compelling connection between the nationwide decline in children’s health – increases in childhood obesity, the rise in incidences of childhood diabetes, the number of children diagnosed with attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) – and the lack of unstructured time spent in nature. He also cites research showing the many benefits for children of getting out in nature. These include reductions in stress, more creative play, reduced symptoms of ADD, and improved motor coordination, not to mention how positive childhood nature experiences provide a foundation for stewardship of nature. Louv says “We can now assume that just as children need good nutrition and adequate sleep, they may very well need contact with nature.” Not a formal medical diagnosis, “Nature deficit disorder” is the term he coins to describe this increasing alienation from the natural world. Fortunately, nature-deficit disorder can be recognized and reversed, individually and culturally. The cure is nature play.

And here in the Flathead, we have numerous family and youth group leaders who provide opportunities for children to get outdoors in nature and play. Many of the organizations and individuals in the CORE resources list have events and programs that introduce youth and adults to the wonders of the natural areas and resources in our valley. As Louv notes, unstructured nature play for children today does not just happen like it did 20 or 30 years ago. It is not “going to happen naturally, we have to take them (children) there.”

What better excuse to get ourselves and our children out in nature this summer to enjoy the Flathead?

Places to go in the Flathead Handout – The Children and Nature Network – National Forum on Children and Nature – No Childe Left Inside – Richard Louv website


Leave a Reply